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Is Google impairing memory?

A concept dubbed collective intelligence may trigger thoughts related to science fiction, but in a world where over 500 million smart phones were shipped last year (according to IDC) we can start to classify ourselves as part of a 'group mind'. We aren't downloading information straight into our minds like you might see in movies, but we've definitely come a long way in a short period of time.

As the web has evolved, and as search engines have become better at finding the information we're hunting for, we now have access to more information more quickly than ever. Put all of that information in the palm of our hands and you start to understand why people look at you suspiciously when you text a friend while playing Trivial Pursuit.

I can name more songs that I listened to in high school than I can current hits. I used to have dozens of phone numbers memorized, today I just tell my phone who I want to call by name - it took me months to memorize my girlfriend's new phone number.

The question that arises is: if we're relying on our memory less, will our memory become less effective?

Transactive memory is a hypothesis formulated by Daniel Wegner, explained as a system which groups use to encode, store and retrieve information. It can help explain why couples tend to remember different types of information. One partner may remember birthdays while the other remembers to pay the bills. It's not that either partner is incapable of remembering both, but we tend to stop concerning ourselves with remembering the things that we know someone near us will.

So if Google knows essentially any fast fact we desire, and we have smart phones in our pockets, are we remembering fewer of the interesting tidbits that we discover throughout our lives?

Are we becoming less interesting in conversation because we're pulling from a memory that has grown lazy and dependent?

Not to worry! Smart phones apps have been designed specifically to help people start conversations – we obviously have nothing to worry about.

Sources: IDC

About the author: Brad Parsons is the owner of Sticky Consulting, a web consulting company based in Kelowna, BC.

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Each week, Tech Soup will be written by a member of the Okanagan's burgeoning first-rate technology community. We already have a few regular contributors, but if you're interested in writing a tech piece for this weekly column, send us an email to [email protected]

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